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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Gimmick bets are part of the game

13 March 2015

Dear Mark: With “Fortune” Pai Gow Poker, how bad are the odds on the bonus fortune bet? Ray C.

Pai Gow Poker is a hybrid of Chinese dominos, “Pai Gow” and American seven-card poker. Played with a standard 52-card deck plus a joker, it differs from the typical seven-card game in that you play against a banker, not against other players at the table.

The Pai Gow house edge playing house rules against a player who does not bank (acts as the banker for other players to play against) is 2.84 percent. Most of that edge, 1.27 percent, comes from players losing a tie to the bank. The remainder comes from the 5 percent commission paid on winning hands.

Fortune Pai Gow Poker is a popular variant played in casinos today. The game plays exactly like Pai Gow Poker with the exception of an optional Fortune Bonus side bet.

Whenever, Ray, the casino proposes a wager that requires that you put more money on the layout, it most likely is a losing proposition. Better stated, it is a sucker bet that carries a high house edge.

The Fortune Bonus is a side bet that pays strictly on the value of a player’s seven cards and not how the player sets his or her hand. In addition, if another player has a four-of-a-kind or better, the player making the Fortune bet will get what is called an "Envy Bonus," a bonus that is paid when other players at the table make a certain paytable hand. To qualify for the Envy Bonus, typically a minimum of $5 must be bet on the Fortune Bonus.

Based on a typical paytable, the Fortune Bonus Pai Gow wager has a house edge of nearly 8 percent before considering the Envy Bonus. With the Envy wager, you can subtract approximately 1 percent for each additional player at the table.

I recommend, Ray, that you stay clear of a Fortune Bonus Pai Gow wager. Pai Gow Poker already has some of the best odds/money return of most casino games outside of craps or blackjack, so don’t give the casino any more of your hard-earned money than you have to.

Dear Mark: I recently played at the MGM Grand in Detroit. I asked an employee to be shown where the 9/6 machines were for Jacks-or-Better. We searched all over, and the best he could find were some 8/5 machines. There were also many 7/5 machines. I did manage to win a little on the 8/5 but not as much as I had at Greektown Casino, which does have 9/6 machines. Can you tell me what the different odds are on a 9/6 vs. an 8/5 and a 7/5? Mike O.

I am pleased to see, Mike, that you are on the hunt for full-pay (9/6) jacks-or-better machines. They are just not that easy to find anymore, but once located, if you employ basic strategy, your expected payback is 99.544 percent. However, you must take into account that those high returns are predicated on your hitting the royal flush. The royal flush is so dominant in the casino payout calculations for video poker that it is going to cost you 12 percent over the long run while you burn through your bankroll chasing a suited Ten, Jack, Queen, King and Ace.

Now compare that, Mike, to the reduced return of an 8/5 game, 97.3 percent, and a 7/5 machine that returns 96.2 percent with five coins inserted.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “I like to play blackjack. I'm not addicted to gambling. I'm addicted to sitting in a semicircle.” – Mitch Hedberg
Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.